Skip to main content

Full text of "A Letter from Arthur Dobbs Esq; to Charles Stanhope Esq; F. R. S. concerning Bees, and Their Method of Gathering Wax and Honey"

See other formats

1 536 ] 

IV, A Letter from Arthur Dobbs Efq\ to 
Charles Stanhope Efq\ F. R S. concerning 
Bees, and their Method of gathering Wax 
and Honey. 

J* / ft 9 Caftle-Dobfo, OB. 22, 1750. 

JWNov. B.r^INCE my View of doing Good, by 
i75 °* jj^ making Difcovcricsofrhc Great World 
has been diup r ointcd, upon my Retirement into this 
little Corn r of it, [Ireland] amongft other rural 
Amufemcr.ts I have been contemplating the Inha- 
bitants of the Little World $ particularly that moft 
ufeful and induftrious Society of Bees; and have had 
Time to rcvife the curious, ingenious, and enter- 
taining Account given by M. Reaumur, of that in- 
imitable Infect, with his curious Remarks and Rea- 
foning about them' j fince he has been indefatigable 
in his Experiments and Obfcrvations about them, as 
well as of moft ether Infects, I think it me Duty of 
every Perfon, who has had Time to make any Ob- 
fervations, which may contribute to come at the 
Truth, and complete his Natural Hiftory of Infcdts, 
to throw in his Mite towards ir. 

I had Lcifurc and Opportunities, many Years ago, 
to make fome Obfcrvations about B^es; and all that 
I made confirm his general Theory, as well from 
his microfcopical Obfcrvations, as thofe made by 
means of -ghis Hires 1 in which he had much-greater 
and better Opportunities to make Observations than 
1 have had : However, as there are two Things, in 
%hich my Obfcrvations arc different from his, I 


C 537 3 

think it but Jufticc to the curious and learned World 
to mention them ; that M. Reaumur, in cafe he be 
alive, and ftill able to follow his Obfervations, or, 
if he is not, that fome other curious Perfon may 
make future Remarks, to know whether thofc I 
have made are true : As I mud own myfelf diffident 
of my own Obfervations, when they differ from 
fo accurate, minute, and careful an Obferver, as he 
has fhewn himfclf to be throughout his whole Theory 
of Infc&s in general, and more particularly of the 
Society of our Garden-Bee. 

I therefore beg Leave to lay the few Remarks I 
have made before you, Sir; that if you think there 
is any thing in them worth communicating, you 
may Jay them before the Royal Society, of which 
you are a worthy Member $ or communicate them 
to M. Reaumur, if he be dill alive, and fol- 
lows his Obfervations 5 that, in cafe my Obferva- 
vations are found true, he may fo far alter his Re- 
marks 5 and if they are not confirm'd, I (hall wil- 
lingly fubmit to his future Obfervations. 

The only two things in which I differ from M. 
Reaumur , are, that 1 apprehend he fays, the Bees 
range from Flowers of one Species to thofe of an- 
other Species, whilft they are gathering one Load; 
fo that the Farina, or crude Wax, loaded upon their 
Legs, is from different Species of Flowers $ which 
is contrary to what I have obferved. The other 
thing that I differ with him in is, that he fays the 
Wax is formed in the Bee, from the crude Wax, or 
Farina (fo far I agree with him) : But by his Ob- 
fervations, he fays, after Digeftion it is difcharged 
upwards by the Mouth j whereas, by my Obfervations, 


1 538] 

it is the Faeces, Husks, or Shells of the Farina or crude 
Wax, after Digeftion, difcharg'd by the Anus. 

As to the firft, I have frequently follow'd a Bee 
loading the Farina, Bee-Bread, or crude Wax, upon 
its Legs, through a Part of a great Field in Flower ; 
and upon whatfoever Flower I faw it firft alight and 
gather the Farina, it continued gathering from that 
kind of Flower 5 and has pafs'd over many o her 
Species of Flowers, tho* very numerous in the Field, 
without alighting upon or loading from them 5 tho* 
the Flower it chofe was much fcarcer in the Field 
than the others: So that if it began to load from a 
Daify, it continued loading from them, neglecting 
Clover, Honeyfuckles, Violets, &c; and if it began 
with any of the others, it continued loading from 
the fame Kind, pa fling over the Daify. So in a Gar- 
den upon my Wall- Trees, I have feen it load from 
a Peach, and pafs over Apricots, Plums, Cherries, 
&c. yet made no Diftin<ftion betwixt a Peach and 
an Almond 

Now M. Reaumur, in his Memoir upon the Bee's 
making Honey, mentions Ariflotles Obfcrvation of 
the Bee's loading or gathering from one Species of 
Flower without changing $ not quitting a Violet to 
gather from a Cowflips which he fays is not juftly 
founded 5 for he has obferved frequently a Bee on a 
large Border gathering from Flowers of different 
Species. If M Reaumur only means, that, when 
the Bee gathers Honey, it takes it indifferently from 
any Flower, I can fay nothing againftit; but, if he 
intends it to mean the Bee's loading the Farina 
upon its Legs, then my Obfcrvation directly contrar 

di£ts it 


[ 539 ] 

What further confirms my Observation is this, 
that each Load upon the Legs of a Bee is of one uni- 
form Colour throughout, as a li^ht Red, an Orange, 
a Yellow, a White, or a Green, and is not upon dif- 
ferent Parts of the Load of a different Colour* fa 
that as the Farina of each Species of Flowers* 
when colle&ed together, is of one uniform Colour, 
the Preemption is, that it is gather d from one Species. 
For, if from different Kinds, Part of the Load might 
be of one Colour, and Part of another. 

Another Obiervation to confirm the fame Fa£t is, 
that Bees, in the Height of the Scafon, return to 
their Hives with Loads of very different Magnitudes, 
fome having Leads as great as fmall Slior, whilft 
others have very Imall Loads 5 it cannot be con- 
ceived that this Difference is from the Ina&ivity or 
Sloth of the Bee in cblie&ing its Load, but rather 
from the Scarcity of the Flowers, upon which it 
firft began to load. 

Now, if the Fa#s- are- 4b, and my^Obfervations f 
true, I think that Providence has appointed the Bee 
to be very inftrumental in promoting the Increafe 
of Vegetables 5 but otherwife, might be very detri- 
mental to their Propagations and at the fame time 
rhey contribute to the Health andXife of their own 

From the late Improvement made by Glaffes, and 
Experiments made, in obferving the Works of Na- 
ture, it is almoft demonftrable, that the Farina upon 
the Apices of Flowers is the Male Seed 5 which en 
tering the Tiftilhim or Matrix in the Flower, im 
pregnanes the Ovum, and makes it prolific. It is 
often necefTary to have Wind and dry Weather to 

Z z z waft 

[ 540 ] 

waft this Farina to the Tijlillum, and from Flower 
to Flower, to make the Seed prolific: And we find 
in wet Seafons, that Grain, Nuts, and Fruit, are 
Ids prolific, by the Farinas not being properly con- 
vey *d to the Tijiillumi and alfo in very hot dry 
Weather, from clammy Honey-Dews, or, more pio* 
pcrly fweet Exfudations from the Plants them felvcs, 
which clogs the Farina, and caufes Blafts and Mil- 
dews. Now, ff the Farina of Ipecifically different 
Flowers fliculd take the Place of its own proper 
Farina in the Tifiiilum y like an unnatural Coition 
in the animal World, cither no Generation would 
happen, or a monftrous one, or an Individual not 
capable of further Generation. 

Now if the Bee is appointed by Providence to go 
only, at each Loading, to Flowers of the fame Spe- 
cies, as the abundant Farina often covers the whole 
Bee, as well as what it loads upon its Legs, it car- 
ries the Farina from Flower to Flower, and by its 
walking upon thcTi/lillum and Agitation of its Wings, 
it contributes greatly to the Farinas entering into the 
tifiiilumy and at the fame time prevents the hete- 
rogeneous Mixture of the Farina of different Flow- 
ers with it 5 which, if it ftray'd from Flower to 
Flower at random, it would carry to Flowers of a 
different Species. 

Befides thefe vifible Advantages, it may be of great 
Benefit to. their own Species and Society; for, as 
this Farina is the natural and conftant Food of the 
Bees, during one Half of the Year, and from this 
digefted, as it is accurately obferved by M. Reaumur, 
is "the Bouiliee and Jelly formed 5 which is lodg'd 
for the Food of the young Bees, until they become 


■. Jt 1 J 

Nymphs: It is alfo neculary that Stores of it fhould 
be iodg'd in the Ce Is a-lj^in? ig to the Hon v for 
their Winter ProVifion 5 without which M\ R.t'u- 
mur oblcrves they would be in Daimcr ot urn.^ of 
a Loofcnefs, their mod dangerous Malady. 

It feems therefore highly re-fo^abic to believe, 
that different Kinds of Farina may have different 
phyfical Qualities: So that, by making Collections 
of the fame kind in each Cell, they may have pro- 
per Remedies for themfclves againft Ailments we 
have no Knowlege of, which otherwife they would 
not have, if they were filled at random from all 
Kinds of Flowers. Thefe further Advantages, di- 
reeled to them by Providence, feem to add Weight 
to my Obfervations, and are a prefumptivc Proof that 
they are true. 

The only thing, befides the former, wherein myOb 
fervations differ from Mr. Reaumur, is in the Manner 
the Wax is made and emitted by the Bee. I abfo- 
lutely concur with him, that the Wax is formed by 
Digeliion in the Bodies of the Bees, and is emitted by 
them, and then becomes Wax; and that it is almoft 
impracticable to form Wax any other Way, unlefs 
the Wax extracted from the Myrtle-berries ivuime-* 
rica by boiling be an Exception from it. 

By M. Reaumur's Obfervations, he forms his Opi- 
nion, that after the Bee has fed upon the Farina, 
or Bee-Bread, and it has pafs'd through the firft Sto- 
mach (which is the Rcfervoir where the Honev is 
lodg'd, from whence it is difcharg'd upwards by its 
Mouth into the Cells) it is convey 'd into the fecond 
Stomach i and yet, when there, great Part of it con- 
tinues in its fpherical or oval Form, (till undigested, 

Z z z 2 as 

[ 542 ] 

as view'd by him with his Glaffes ; and con/equentljr 
muft be convey'd further, before it be thoroughly 
digefted, and the Particles broke; yet this he fup- 
pofes is reconvey'd upwards through both the Sto- 
machs, and is emitted by its Mouth; and forms his 
Judgment from his Obfervation, that the Bee, when 
working, and finifhing the Cells, nips with ics Teeth 
the Wax, where it is too thick, or wrong laid; and 
has obferved a Motion of its Tongue as it were 
fmoothing or laying on more Materials, which he 
thinks muft be then difchare'd from the Stomach 
by its Mouth. 

What makes me difagree with him in his Opinion 
and Obfervations, is from the Remarks I have made, 
that the Faces of the Bee difcharg'd by the Anti^ 
after the Farina is digefted, is the true Wax. We 
may with Truth believe, that the Farina^ which is 
the'male Seed of all Vegetables, confifts of a Spirit 
or moving Principle, floating in a fwcet Oil, fur- 
rounded by an exterior Coat or Shell, in which is 
that Monade that impregnates the Grain or Fruit, 
and makes it prolific; that, upon Separation or Di- 
geft ion, this Spirit an J Sweet Oil becomes the Nou- 
■fiftiment of the Bee ; which Spirit is of the fame 
Nature with the Animalcules in femine mafculino 
of Animals, and becomes the animal Spirits in the 
Bee and other Animals $ and perhaps the true Honey 
is the fweet Oil included in the Farina: And as ail 
Vegetables abound with thefe vegetable vivifying 
Atoms, fince, from many, every Bud is capable of 
increafing each Species, fo the true Honey breaking 
through ics Shell by great Heat, occasions thofe Honey- 
Dews obferv'd in hot Weather upon the Leaves and 


[ 543 ] 

Flowers of moft Vegetables 5 which is no more than 
an Exfudation from the Leaves and Bloffomsofthefc 
Veflels that break with the Heat; befides thofe that 
appear on the Apices of Flowers, which afterwards 
impregnates the Fruit, 

Of this inward Subftancc of the Farina, diluted 
with Water, after Digeftion, is formed the Bouillee 
and Jelly, which the Bees difcharge upwards by the 
Mouth, into the Cell?, to nourifh the young Bees 
until they become Nympha*, whilft the Husk or 
outer Coat is diilharg'd by the Amis, and becomes 
the genuine Wax. 

I have frequently, when Bees have been fwarming, 
had them alight upon my Hands and Cloaths,- and 
many, at different times, have difcharged their Faces 
thereupon : This I have taken oif, and found it of 
the Confidence of warm Wax, with the fame gluti- 
nous adhering Quality, not crumbling like the Farina. 
I have alfo diftinguifh'd it by the Smelt to be Wax; 
but it had a heavier ftronger Smell, as it was frefh 
anj warm from the Bee. 

What further confirmed me in this FacV, was from 
my Obfcrvation of the Bees when working up their 
Comb in a glafs Hive; where I have conftantly feeu 
(and mult believe it impofiible not to be obferved 
by fo accurate an Obferver as M. Reaumur) that 
feverai Bees, foon after one another, have by hafty 
Steps, walk'd along a Comb then forming, for 
the Length of two or three Cells, bending their 
Tails to the Comb, and ftriking it with a wrig- 
gling Motion from Side to Side, in a zigzag Way j 
which I was convinced was difcharging their Faeces , 
or the Wax, againft the Border of the Cells, as 


I C A*. A. I 
L J • ■ J 

they ran along, and repeated it as long ns they had 
any to difchargc, and then quit it; which is the 
lleafon why the outward Border of the Cells is fo 
thick and flrong: And immediately afterwards, other 
Bees came along the Ceils, and with their fore Feet 
rais'd up the Borders like Parte, and thinning it, 
whilft other Bees were ripping oft* with" their Teeth, 
and pruning away any irregular Excrefccnccs, fo as 
to make the Divifions of the Cells vaftlv thinner 
than the Borders or Edscs, which were aiwavs thick 
and ftrong, from the difcharging the Faces or Wax 
upon them. 

M. Reaumur has very juftlv obferved, t-hat, befides 
the three tranfparent fmooth Eyes, which the Bee 
has placed in a Triangle betwixt the Antenna on 
the Top of its Head, the Bee has alfo on each Side 
of its Head an Eye, or rather a Multitude of Eyes, 
form'd byaNumbcrofdiftindlZrW/jfurrounded each 
with (hort Hairs, which are confirnfd to be Eyes, both 
from Shammer dam, and his own Experiments to 
determine its and that, notwithftanding thefe Lens's 
arc lin'd with a dark opaque Subftancc, yet they a {lift 
fo much their Vifion, that, when darkened by Paint 
laid over them, the Bees could not find their Way 
to their Hive, tho* at a fmall Diftancc, but ibarVi 
directly upwards,* nor could they liad their Way 
wnen the three fmooth Eyes were darkened. 

But there is one Obfcrvation, which 1 don't iind 
he. has made, which may have determined the Gar- 
den Bees to make almoft all their Cells imperfect 
Hexagons. The Obfcrvation is this 5 that thefe opaque 
Eyes on each Side of the Head, con fill of many 
Lens's, each of which is a perfect Hexagon; and the 


[ 545 3 

whole Eye, when view'd in a Microfcopc, appears 
exactly like a Honeycomb : Now, as the Eyes com- 
pos'd of thefe hexagonal Lens's, are in full View to 
the other Bees, does it not feem that Providence 
has directed them fo as to be a Pattern fet before 
them, for the Bees to follow informing their Combs? 
Is it not alfo reafonable to believe, from the Di'fpro- 
portion of the Convexity betwixt the three fmooth 
tranfparent Eyes, and the Lens's of the dark rough 
Eyes, that they are appointed for different Purpofes? 
why may it not be thought that the Lens's are great 
Magnifiers, to view things nigh at hand, and by many 
Reflexions to convey Light into the dark Hives, 
where Light is ftill neceflary 5 and that the three 
other Eyes are to obferve Objects at a great Diftance, 
fo as to conduit them abroad to Fields at a Diftancc, 
and back again to their Hives? 

I agree with M. Reaumur in the Form and Ufe 
of the Fang or Tromp of the working Bee, and of 
the Ufe of the Mouth within the Teeth of the Bee; 
fo that it does not fuck, but laps or licks with its 
rough Fang or Tromp, like a Dog. But I have ne- 
ver obferved the Bee nipping or breaking open the 
apices of Flowers, to let out the Farina, when it is 
not fully blown or open; but have often with 
Pleafure obferved the Bee gathering the Farina upon 
its Fang, by licking it off the Apices, and laying it 
upon the firft Pair of Legs, which convey it to the 
fecond Pair, and thefe lodge it upon the Pallet of 
the third Pair, with furprifing Brisknefs ; fo that, 
by the time the fecond Pair has lodg'd it upon the 
third Pair, the Bee has gather'd more, and lodg'd it 
on the fore Legs, fo that all are in conftant Motion. 


C 546 ] 

Prom the curious Obfervations made bv M. 
Reaumur, upon the Structure and Behaviour of the 
Queen or Mother-Bee, the Drone or Male Bee, and 
the working or Mule Bee, which is of neither Sex 5 
from the Queen Bee's being fo exceedingly prolific, 
as to lay from 30 to 40000 Eggs of working Bees 
in a Seafon; befides the Eggs of 800 Male Bees, 
and of eight or ten Queen or Mother Bees; and 
from the Coldncfs of the Male Bee, who fo long 
refills the CareiTes of the Queen or Female Bee 5 and 
alfo from the indefatigable Labour and Ceconomy 
of the working Bee, to nourifh the young Bees, 
make up the Combs, and lay in Scores of Farina* 
and Honey for Winter* I think very good Rcafons 
may be given why the Queen fhould have a Seraglio 
of fome Hundreds of Male Bees; and why the work- 
ing Bee fhould deftroy the Males, when no longer 
neceflarv to impregnate the Eii^s of the Mother Bee. 

It is evident, from the Oeccnomv of the Garden 
Bee, that Providence has appointed that they fhould 
fhare their Store with Mankind, bv making them 
to induftrious in every Climate, as to provide, in- 
tolerable Seafons, a Store of Honey and Wax, dou- 
ble of what is neceflarv for their Subfiftence during 
the Winter, and of Combs for the Queen's laying 
her Eggs in Spring, before new Work can be made. 
From the vaft Number of Eggs which the Queen 
lays in a Seafon, it is abfolmely neceflarv thac fhe 
fhould have a great Store of Male Sperm, to im- 
pregnate her Eggs 5 and as the Eggs are not fenfibly 
large in -her Body for 6 Months after her Coition* 
with the Males, who die, or are killed, in Attgujl, 
and Hie dees not begin to lay from that time till 


[ 547 ] 

February or March ; it is therefore neceflary that 
flic fhould have a great Store of Male Sperm within 
her, to impregnate all the Eggs fhe lays from that 
time, until June or *Jufy, when young Drones or 
Males are hatched, who are notdefigned for her Ufe, 
but for the young Queens, who go off with the 
Swarms, or for the young Queen who fucceeds the old 
one in the old Hive; fincc the Drones arc great Feeders, 
and no Workers; and are of no Ufe, but to give a fuf- 
cient Store of Sperm to the Mother-Bee ; as the work- 
ing Bees have fo many Enemies to deprive them of their 
Store, they can't be maintained during the Winter, 
even if their Life fhould laft fo long $ and as it is pro- 
bable each Male has but one Act of Coition with 
the Queen, as they are Co cold, and take lb much 
carefling before they ad, and, by M. Reaumur's 
Obfervation, die foon after the Ad is over, when, 
probably, their whole Store of Sperm is exhauftcd 
in that *A&, as foon as the Queen has got as much 
Sperm lodg'd in the proper Relcrvoir, as is fufficient 
to impregnate all her future Eggs, the Males are 
no longer of Ufe; and if thole who haveaded, die, 
thofe who have not, being of no further Ufe, arc 
killed by the working Bee, out of Oeconomy to 
fave their Winter Store, when, probably, by Nature 
they could live but few Days more ; as we find the 
Silk-worm Moth dies foon after the Eggs are laid, 
as well Males as Females. It iecms therefore ncccf- 
fary that the Queen fhould breed ib many Males, as, 
by one Ad of Coition from each, may impregnate 
all her Eaa-s, and that the working Bee fhould dif- 
patch them, as foon as that is over,and a Store is lodg'd. 

A a a a There 

[ 5+8 ] 

There are two Veflels dcfcrib'd by Swammerdam 
in the Mother-Bee, whofe Plate M. Reaumur has 
given in his Memoirs j one of which is placed be- 
twixt the two Lobes of the Ovarium, which hefup- 
pofes to be a Bladder to contain Air; the other is a 
fpherical Veffel, featcd clofe by the common Dud, 
in which the Eggs fall from the Lobes of the Ova- 
rium> which he fuppofes is to ooze out a Juice to 
moiften the Eggs in their Paflage. I take one of 
thefe, but molt probably the laft, to be the Refer- 
voir and Repofitory of the Male Sperm, wherein it 
is lodsfd from the Ad of Coition, until the Eiz^s 
are inlarg'd, and pafs thro' the adjoining Dud from 
the two* Lobes of the Ovarium. 

Since the Prefervation and Increafe of Bees are evi- 
dently beneficial to the Public, I approve very much 
of M. Reaumur s Inftrudions in driving Bees from a 
full Hive into an empty one, in cafe it can be done 
time enough to have new Work, fufficient for the 
Queen to lay her Eggs in in Spring $ fince they can 
be fed at very little Expence, if Care be taken to keep 
them in a middle State of Stupefadion, neither too hot 
nor cold, during the Winter : But I approve much more 
of his caftrating or fharing the Combs with the Bee?, 
by taking the Combs beft ftor'd with Honey, and 
leaving thofe wherein are the Nymph a and Bee- 
bread 5 but think in taking the Combs a fafer and 
eafier Way may be taken, than he direds : His Me- 
thod is to ftupefy the Bees with Smoke, to oblige 
them to croud together in the Crown of the Hive, 
and then turning up the Hive, and cutting out the 
Combs fil I'd with Honey. Now I think, that turn- 
ing up the full Hive, and fctting an empty Hive upon 


[ 549 ] 

it, and driving the Bees into it, is preferable to 
fmoking : For then a very few Bees will remain in 
the full Hive ; and thofe few may be ftupefied, and 
the Bees in the empty Hive being put on a Table, 
the Combs may be taken out and fele&ed at leifure, 
without Hazard 5 and afterwards the empty Hive 
may be turn d up, and their old Hive fet over them, 
fo that they will go up without Scruple into their 
former Hive, and repair their Work, by making new 
Combs : And if the Queen had not quitted the old 
Hive, as is often the Cafe, then they would return 
to their Queen, and the Society would not be loft, 
as is fometimes the Cafe, in driving into an empty 

Thefe, Sir, are the few Remarks I have made on 
revifing M. Reaumur's curious Obfervations on Bees, 
which 1 thought incumbent upon me to fend you, 
to lay before your Learned Society, if it may con- 
tribute towards finiflungthe Natural Hiftory of Bees* 
I (hall take up no more of your Time, than to af- 
fure you, that 1 am, with the grcatcft Regard, 

Tour mo ji obedient t andmofi humble Servant, 

Arthur Dobbs. 

Aaaa 2 V*